The occupancy seemed to change daily and sometimes doubled and tripled on the weekends.
On Third Street in Encinitas, just up the hill from Moonlight Beach, there’s a pair of low-rent triplexes facing each other. They were built at about the same time from flip-flopped blueprints so that one is the mirror image of the other. They have two apartments upstairs, and a basement apartment downstairs, are painted the same shade of postwarboom-green, and are backed by a garbage can alley that serves as an overflow parking lot on Saturday night.
The author, Steve Sorensen: Early morning surf sessions were eagerly planned with visions of ‘D’ Street cracking at sunrise with only three or at most four guys in the water.
Somehow, over the years the two triplexes fell into the hands of separate owners, and so quite naturally accumulated different types of tenants. The triplex on the south houses a swank, gray-templed, Mercedes-Benz-driving realtor who likes to think of himself as young-minded, and his drug-dealing son who drives a yellow van to match his bleach-blond hair and thinks of himself as a businessman; there’s a nearly nondescript young couple of the kind seen on Mrs. Olson coffee ads on TV; and there’s a pale, bleary-eyed religious recluse who claims she hasn’t eaten in six months (but perhaps should) as a cure for a mysterious disease that has baffled modem science. Their triplex is spotless. The windows sparkle and shine, while the lawn is manicured more carefully than a cemetery, and the sidewalks are hosed and swept to a smooth marble sheen.
The other triplex, the one across the way, has a little different story to tell. It’s empty now — all tenants were evicted by the new landlord when he took over a month or so ago. And it’s easy to see why. The people who lived there weren’t quite as meticulous as their neighbors. The paint is peeling. The pipes rattle. The dogs and cats who cavorted freely from one residence to the other left the gnawed and shredded evidence of their presence. The rusting hulks of two or three old dead cars (it’s hard to tell just how many) slouch out in the alley. And the porches and sidewalks are littered with such assorted junk as a two-legged bar-be-que grill, an empty but still odorous rabbit cage, several smashed and sun-browned surfboards, a foam sofa split and going to seed, a refrigerator door, and an evergrowing mound of multicolored beer bottles that seem to have borrowed the fecundity of the runaway rabbits.
It’s just about impossible to say exactly who’s responsible for all this because the occupancy seemed to change daily and sometimes doubled and tripled on the weekends. After observing and participating in the place for a year or two, I’ve put together the following, admittedly incomplete, list:
The leader, by authority of his generosity and his enthusiasm for group activity, was the gardener. He looked like the Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike, had an incredible green thumb and a powerful thirst for homemade beer, so that half the time the garden looked like the Garden of Eden, and the other half like Brer Rabbit’s Briar Patch. It was a whimsical kind of thing. Also, he was an intellectual, but was embarrassed about it and tried to disguise himself by staying drunk. Of course, all this did was confound his irrespressible ideas so that a good deal of the time he was seen and heard babbling nonsense.
There was a wild-haired lunatic. He stomped around in paratrooper boots, carried an eight-inch hunting knife on his belt and was constantly being stopped by the local police because of his similarity to a local dime-store bandit. He was one of these guys who has to shave maybe three, four times a day not to look like one of the Beagle Boys in Donald Duck comics. And he did it too, rather than, as he put it, “be another damn bum with a beard.” He was very partial to cats, and one time when a mother was run over by a car minutes after dropping her litter, he bought sweet milk and a little toy baby bottle and nursed them himself. His lunacy was not the effect of drug or drink. In fact he swore them both off — but was natural. On Saturday night he would put on a white shirt, slick back his hair, and show up at parties with a briefcase of Urantia books under his arm like some kind of Bible salesman. He believed in Urantia, but I suspect he also used it as a tool to meet the ladies.
And the ladies! There was this girl... the perfect beauty. She had a face like a cat, green eyes, long limbs, but she never spoke a word. She laughed often enough, but it’s hard to say at what. She was rarely seen wearing anything but a bikini, but wasn’t the least bit self-conscious about her alarming good looks. They say her father was an embezzling accountant who dragged his family all over the West as he worked his scam from town to town, until the beauty made her escape to Encinitas. They say her father is looking for her still.
And there was the weekend Miss America. She was really from somewhere in L.A. and only showed up on the weekends to visit somebody or other, but she had one of those absurdly fine figures that are both a blessing and an embarrassment to a girl. She was no fool either; she was acutely aware of her dilemma, and I heard her say once that she would gladly trade her figure in on a less luxurious model, which was interesting. Nevertheless, in a pinch, like when she really wanted something or somebody, she never hesitated to use the tools at hand.
Beach towns are famous for their good-looking girls, and there to prey on them was the smiler. He was perhaps the most likable person of all. He had those perfect pearly teeth and that long blond hair that drove sixteen year-olds crazy (his success with girls over that age wasn’t so great, as he freely admitted.) But what endeared him to me was his refrigerator. The top half was perpetually full of beer, while the bottom vegetable bin was a dark and mysterious soup of iridescent molds and forgotten fruits stewing in their own six-months juices. That’s style.
There was also another regular - a cheerful little elf who came around with energetic ideas for fun and play. He was said to have been the landlord, but this seemed preposterous because he was much too young and much too generous.. On l lie other hand, the landlord gave December rent-free as a Christmas present and this certainly fits his description. At any rate, he was fond of volleyball, and although he was very short, he could jump his height. He always seemed like some kind of ocean elf who might live in the eucalyptus woods.
And there was the jealous lover in the sports car. She was more like some kind of ghost that came haunting. Nobody could remember exactly who she was— perhaps she came with the apartment- but the story is that she was jilted by somebody around here, and she still cruises the alley parking lot periodically just to check it out, and maybe find out who’s seeing whom. It was really a bad habit, and everybody sort of felt sorry for her.
Of course there were many more.
Now, across from the alley in back, there was a vacant lot which they had access to. True, it wasn’t access by ownership but access by occupancy. Here they had a communal garden, a volleyball court, and a horseshoe pit. The garden was governed without law- anybody could walk in it, and anybody could eat from it — in the perhaps idealistic hope that it would all work out in the end. They were particularly fond of tomatoes, lettuce, corn, white radishes, and watermelon, but somewhat less fond of the hoe, the shovel and the rake, so that the crooked rows and tangled vines produced something less than they could have, if better cared for.
The horseshoe pit was remarkable in that it even existed, because nobody really had the $20 a good set of shoes cost. What happened was that the gardener came by a little extra money by way of an old debt, and was faced with the problem of relieving himself of its weight. He could take care of the gas bill and the phone bill, and maybe even buy a few groceries...try and get ahead of the game...but the danger in that is that you just might take the game seriously, so he blew it on the horseshoes.
I’m sure there’s a similar story behind the volleyball set, but I can’t remember what it is. At any rate, they were enjoyed the way simple things should be enjoyed—with laughter and beer and barking dogs.
But surfing was the only sport that was ever really taken seriously. All the spots - Swami’s, Boneyard, ‘D’ Street, Beacons - were within walking distance, and the matters of swell size, swell direction, surface conditions, and bottom qualities were discussed enthusiastically wherever two or more people met. Early morning surf sessions were eagerly planned with visions of ‘D’ Street cracking at sunrise with only three or at most four guys in the water, but was generally understood that if you couldn’t make it at sunrise, then ten or eleven o’clock would do. Nothing should be taken that seriously.
Ah, you can see it was a kingdom. It wasn’t a neighborhood, but a kingdom. There was a generous king, a handsome prince, a jack, a jester, a court of games and funloving subjects, plenty of food and drink. There was sitting in the garden at sunset discussing points of philosophy. There were nights of theater at La Paioma just around the corner, and walking home in the dark fog while megaphone-bullfrogs croaked in the creek. There were Saturdays of insane drunkenness and debauchery, and Sunday mornings of sweetness waking up to the sound of waves breaking on the beach. There were even gloomy mid-winter days in the damp basement dungeon with nothing but the conversation of friends and the memory of better days to get you by. As for money, they were ill peasants. The lunatic worked part-time at a surfboard blanks factory. The perfect beauty was a waitress at the local coffee shop, as every joker in town knew. The gardener was a gardener. The smiler was between jobs. Miss America worked in L.A. Money seems to have been looked on with the same attitude as the garden. It all worked out in the end. And in the end there are less honorable positions than poverty.
But even kingdoms are bought and sold. They’re called Real Estate. Of course it wasn’t really any surprise. The peasants always know before anyone else when a revolution is in the air. There had been many indications, beginning with the day the bathtub in the upstairs bathroom fell through the ceiling of the basement below. Nobody was hurt, but it was clearly an omen. Shortly after that fungus began growing on the basement walls, and the plumbing began spitting up clumps of sand, hair and grease, and everyone knew the symptoms were terminal.
After the deal was made, the new landlord showed up announcing the changes to be made. It was going to be nothing short of a complete remodeling job — new plumbing, plaster, paint— with the bottom line being that rent would double. The peasants were allowed to remain the first month of the new reign but before long all the pounding and hammering and roto-rooting and shouting up the heating ducts got to be too depressing. And nobody wanted it to suffer a slow death.
The gardener had been making arrangements to get a job in the woods up north for months, and when it came through he just packed his bags and split. The lunatic—he’s been on the skids before. He sold or threw away everything he didn’t need, and moved into a closet at the factory where he works. The smiler has plenty of teenage girls to take care of him. Miss America was swallowed up by L.A. and never heard from again. The jealous lover still cruises the alley as if nothing had changed. And the beauty... excuse me, she says my lunch is ready.